Stalls, crashes and lack of winter tires make snow-slicked Malahat a ‘parking lot’

Stalls, crashes and lack of winter tires make snow-slicked Malahat a 'parking lot'
A Pepsi-branded semi truck jackknifed on the Malahat Highway near Tunnel Hill on a chaotic day for drivers Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022.

The Malahat Highway looked more like a parking lot on a snow-stricken Tuesday because some drivers didn’t get the memo about winter safety, the company contracted to maintain the route says.

It was chaos as snow started to fall more heavily on the highway later in the afternoon, with a chain reaction causing several vehicles to get stuck.

And according to one Emcon Services manager, it was because of one possibly overconfident driver.

“One ill-equipped vehicle did not have the correct winter tires on, slowly going up the hill, spun out, it turned into three cars, it turned into several commercial vehicles behind it, and suddenly it’s a parking lot,” said division manager Stewart Westwood.

Not only were several semi trucks stuck, including a Pepsi truck that jackknifed in the middle of the highway despite having tire chains on, some of Emcon’s own plows got caught up in the traffic jam when they should have been clearing snow.

WATCH: Ferries cancelled, Malahat a mess as Greater Victoria grapples with snow

“They should be treated just like emergency vehicles where, if people see them coming up behind them, they actually get out of their way,” said Westwood. “That’ll only improve their commute home.”

Winter tires or all-season mud and snow tires with a minimum tread depth of 3.5 millimetres are required for all drivers on the Malahat from Oct. 1 to March 31. Those who don’t meet the requirement face a fine of $121 if they’re caught.

The Malahat is notorious for its sometimes-treacherous winter driving conditions, so why aren’t some drivers getting the message to be prepared?

Westwood says it’s because the weather change on the highway can easily fool those who regularly commute closer to sea level.

“People get fooled to see a little bit of rain down on the Pat Bay,” he said. “There’s quite an elevation change. The forecasts have been telling us at 2-300 metres there’s snowfall, and it’s exactly that. So it’s a slippery wet snow and it’s been around zero, minus one, and it quickly contracts up and becomes ice underneath the vehicles that idle on top of it.”

Ultimately, Westwood’s message for drivers when it comes to snow is the same as police up and down the Island.

“When they forecast a weather event like this, if it’s beyond their driving capability, just stay home. It will just make everybody’s life so much easier.”

There was still heavy traffic reported on the Malahat just before 6 p.m. Tuesday, with drivers still reporting bumper-to-bumper traffic..

For the latest traffic reports from Vancouver Island, visit CHEK’s live-updated traffic page.

Jeff LawrenceJeff Lawrence

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